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Lecture Series 2009/10: Abstracts | Programme | Speakers | Archive

Things and Culture



Maori Carving and Colonial History. A supplement to Tene Waitere's Travels.

This lecture addresses the efficacy of things under changing colonial circumstances. Tene Waitere (1854–1931) was the most important Maori sculptor of the colonial period. Though profoundly aware of customary carving traditions, he seized opportunities raised by emerging tourist markets and commissions from ethnologists and the New Zealand government to create new genres and new carving styles. While he continued to carve for other Maori, much of his work for non-Maori clients was dispersed throughout the world: of the four historic houses now found outside New Zealand, three were partly or wholly carved by him. The paper reflects on the efficacy of his work in cross-cultural settings. 



Riding the Carpet: Talismans and Toys in the 1001 Nights.

The tales collected in the Arabian Nights, first translated into French and English at the beginning of the eighteenth century, ensured the popularity of novel forms of domestic and consumer enchantment, which conferred on goods, manufactures, and artefacts powers of animate life and magical energies. Lamps, gems, kitchenware, and flying carpets, inhabited by potent atavistic genies, act as the motors of the plots and the servants of the protagonists. Marina Warner will discuss the concurrent introduction of the concept of a talisman into western Europe, and explore the meanings of this form of magical thinking at the time, especially in relation to the process of storytelling and the transition to written literature.  

Nearer East



Oriental ‘spolia’ in Wolfram's ‘Parzival’ and its manuscript tradition.

The paper deals with Arabic objects, names and concepts in Wolfram’s main novel. It shows that oriental components of the text such as the grail, planet names, the Prester John or the asserted source of Kyot prove to be a product of eastern contacts and imagination. The manuscript transmission reflects this fact in the way it adds alterations and ornamental decorations to the text. 


26.11.2009 LISA MONNAS (LONDON):

Flight of the phoenix. The impact of Mongol silks in Europe (13th - 14th centuries).   

Oriental silk from the Mongol Empire reached Europe in increasing quantities from the mid-thirteenth century until the late 1360’s by means of trade and diplomatic missions. Presenting new textures and unfamiliar, exotic designs, with a fascinating combination of Chinese and Islamic motifs, these silks were highly appreciated in the West and examples of them have been found in Italy, Spain and Northern Europe. Their success represented a challenge and an inspiration to the burgeoning Italian silk industry. The Italians responded by imitating the texture, design structure and style of these silks, as well as individual motifs, and marketed them under oriental-sounding names. This lecture will discuss the process of assimilation, with reference to surviving textiles and pictorial representations, and the lasting impact of this cultural transfer. 



India Ink. Imagery of the Subcontinent in Sixteenth-Century Europe.

Since Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1498) and opened up the Indian Ocean, Europeans hastened to India for trade and exploration. Very soon the imagery in pictures and accounts filtered back to European audiences to describe this new and exotic locality. This lecture will explore that imagery across the span of the sixteenth century, considering both the varied peoples as well as the fauna and flora of the region. After the medieval preconceptions of the “Marvels of the East” documentary (or at least claims to documentary) began to prevail: Dürer and Burgkmair, principally. By the end of the century illustrated publications by Linschoten and de Bry provide a fuller ethnography for India. Additionally, imagery of places and peoples on maps will reveal the codification of this acquired knowledge. 



Adaption, interpretation and misunderstanding: The after-life and disappearance of pictorial programmes of Classical Antiquity during the early Islamic period. 

The Ummayad period (660–750 CE) has today rightly come to be viewed more in terms of a last phase of Late Antiquity, rather than as marking its end. However the deployment of inherited pictorial programmes in early Islam soon came up against the limits laid down by education, on the one hand, and religious norms on the other. This lecture will examine the criteria according to which Muslims chose paintings and sculpture from classical antiquity for their building programmes and interpreted them afresh.  


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East Asia and the West



Modern Japanese Garden in a Transnational context.

Japanese garden is often regarded as the quintessential symbol of traditional culture in Japan, representing the purest form of Japaneseness. However, examining its history in detail makes apparent that in many cases the Japanese garden assumes a clearly transnational character. We will focus on the development of modern Japanese garden from mid-19th to mid-20th century in their transnational context. We will also examine particularly its relationship with Europe, such as the impact of European public parks on Japan, skirmishes with Britain to establish a colonial garden in Hong Kong, the role of Bruno Taut in establishing the canon of Japanese garden, and Japanese gardens in Europe and their identity both from the point of view of the production and consumption.



Giyath al-Din Naqqash's Report on the Embassy to Khanbaligh. Artistic Exchange Between the Timurid and Ming dynasties.

After Timur’s death in 1405 embassies from the Ming court came to Herat with greater frequency than they had for some years. Persian chronicles narrate the details of these arrivals and departures in some detail. One of the return embassies to Khanbaligh (Beijing) was accompanied by a delegation of representatives selected by Shahrukh (r. 1409–47), his son Baysunghur, and other high-ranking Timurids. As his representative, Baysunghur selected the artist Ghiyath al-Din Naqqash who left a detailed description of his itinerary from Herat to Khanbaligh. The lecture examines Ghiyath al-Din Naqqash’s report in the context of increased diplomatic, cultural, and artistic exchanges between the rulers Shahrukh and Yongle (r. 1403–24) and artistic production in Herat from the 1420s to the 1440s. In this period Timurid artists embraced Chinese modes of artistic production and its aesthetic forms but adapted them to their own needs. Timurid perspectives on Chinese art, deduced through Ghiyath al-Din Naqqash’s eyewitness report, and the systems of artistic response – how Chinese art was reflected in a Persian mirror, to adapt a metaphor from Persian literature – constitute the principal subjects to be considered.  



Musical Instruments as conveyors of meaning from one culture to another.

This lecture explores the nature of the transmission of Arabic musical instruments into Western Europe and how this relates to the transmission of music and song, and to ideas concerning the philosophical and mystical aspects of music. Central to this is the lute, whose Persian name (via Arabic) accompanied the instrument to West Europe, and whose shape, number of strings and position of frets embodied cosmological principles. This and other musical instruments are frequently described in word and image in Islamic and Christian contexts, often with metaphorical or allegorical meaning. The effects of music on the passions and on health will also be explored, as concepts which bridge religious and cultural divides.  



Musical Instruments as conveyors of meaning from one culture to another.  

The Company of London Merchants sailing into the Indies (generally known as the English East India Company) was founded in 1600. It predates the United (generally, 'Dutch') East India Company, although it arrived later into most Asian ports. This paper forms part of an ongoing research project into the early history of the English Company, and at its dealing in self-consciously cultural artefacts. Most trade was in commodities of little interest to the cultural historian. But the Company did experiment with import and export of cloth (as is well known) and also ceramics and paintings. These will be introduced and discussed.  


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